Why the Pixies are no longer my favorite band
Photo by Steve Cohen
On April 13, 2004, I stood in the balcony overlooking the stage at the Fine Line. Two friends from college flanked me, and we smoked cigarettes at a frantic pace. A life goal, one we thought would never be attained, was about to take place: we were going to see the Pixies live. We had talked about the possibility for years, most often while listening to Trompe Le Monde (then my favorite, because of "Letter to Memphis") or Death to the Pixies (then his favorite, because of the different version of "Gigantic") in our dorm rooms or ratty college apartment. "What if they did get back together? What would you want to hear? They'd have to play 'Bone Machine' and 'Where Is My Mind?,' right?" Yes, in fact, we were right. It's one of the few times I've been overcome with emotion at a live show.
That night is burned into my memory forever. The guy who jammed $500 cash in my face for my tickets and me laughing at his offer; watching my friend Sam wade into the crowd and try his best to get near the front -- he didn't even come close; how Francis, Joey, Kim and David all looked the same but different; and Kim Deal crying at one point, overwhelmed with what was taking place. The Pixies had long been my favorite band by then, their five albums of loud-quiet-loud, simply structured and oft-oddly titled songs never getting old, no matter how many times I listened. I still think that. But the years since that show have done nothing but, at best, slowly diminish their raw power and influence; at worst, they've completely eviscerated a legacy with a bloodlust usually reserved for literary lycanthropes.
Let's be clear: the Pixies are no longer my favorite band. And that's the Pixies' faults. They've done almost nothing but half-ass and con their way through nearly everything since that Tuesday night in April of 2004, and I've slowly grown to resent it.
Also, I don't hate them and never could (go listen to Surfer Rosa -- still my all-time favorite album -- and then tell me you hate them with a straight face), but the shine has come off the chrome quite a bit and rust is starting to form in a few places as well. It's gotten pretty ugly.
"Bam Thwok," which surfaced in 2004 as the long-awaited new Pixies material, was an embarrassing disappointment, sounding about half as good as you think a song titled "Bam Thwok" might. They played Coachella. They toured to celebrate Doolittle's 20th anniversary. It seemed okay, but on the other hand, right around the time of the Doolittle tour, it started to seem like a tease that had been going on for five years and somehow nobody seemed to notice until just then. That tour lasted for two fucking years.
Don't get me wrong, that album is fantastic, but no album is that great. Where was the new stuff that always seemed to be hinted at, yet never materialized? The rumors that tensions between Black Francis and Kim Deal had reached a boiling point began to swirl again and again. It seemed like eventually we'd end up with no new material, though our pocketbooks would feel a bit lighter despite that fact. It was like we, as fans, we're participating the world's slowest, longest game of Three-card Monte ever -- "Is the queen of hearts here? Hmm, in your other hand? Um, is it actually on that Breeders tour? What the fuck, guys?"
"Bagboy" arrived last year surrounded by a lot of hype (too much to live up to, regardless of song quality, if we're being fair) but its failure to deliver was stunningly epic in nature. The first time I heard it, I had turned my car on and it was mid-song on the radio. "What's this garbage?" I wondered aloud; then I recognized Kim Deal's voice and my heart sank -- and then it turned out that it wasn't even her. By this time Kim had taken the Breeders back out on tour, celebrating the 20th anniversary of Last Splash and looked like a goddamn genius for doing so. It seemed the Pixies were imploding, or at least turning into that inside-out monkey (gone to heaven) in that scene where the early telepod experiment goes horribly wrong in David Cronenberg's The Fly.
Photo by Erik Hess
Kim Deal finally left for good and it was the wisest move she's made in years. They hired the Muffs' Kim Shattuck as a replacement, then quickly dismissed her, allegedly for stage diving at the end of a show -- Black Francis also allegedly saying something about it being undignified to stage dive. She was quickly replaced with Zwan's Paz Lenchatin, who apparently loves boarding sinking ships.
See also: Why I gave up on the Flaming Lips
When the latest album, Indie Cindy (really, guys?) arrived, that sealed it, but I didn't know just yet. I could no longer fool myself. The Pixies had poisoned their legacy so thoroughly, it was actually sort of mind-blowing. I didn't expect another Doolittle, but this? A few weeks ago, someone asked me my favorite band. "The Pixies," I replied reflexively, like I have every time that question has been asked for about 18 years.
Then found the need, for the first time ever, to qualify it with, "Well, everything up through Trompe Le Monde. Not that new record," which quickly made me realize that they are no longer my favorite band. For ten years, I have been jerked around by them, lured by their legacy; a legacy I thought was iron-clad, but turned out to be paper thin; a legacy they have elected to drag into a dark alley and stab in the kidney while stealing its wallet. I can no longer support what the Pixies are doing, but I don't feel as guilty as I thought I might -- I actually feel like a weight has been lifted. I got what I wanted out of them a long time ago in the form of a live show. It turns out I (and I daresay everyone else) maybe needed nothing more.
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